“Life is hard sometimes, yeah?” my friend wrote in a text last week.
“Very hard,” I wrote back.
We had been exchanging texts, trying to figure out if we might be able to get together next weekend. But unfortunately, kids’ activities, travel schedules, and other obligations are getting in the way.
I miss my friend. She misses me too. We are both disappointed. Life is hard sometimes.
This morning I woke to a leaking bathroom sink. The shower door came unhinged. One dog had peed all over my son’s piano book. The other dog (or maybe it was the same dog?) had gotten sick all over the living room, dining room, kitchen and family room. Our morning was rushed with a frantic school drop-off and hurried goodbyes. I have felt on the verge of tears most of the day. For what reason, I’m not exactly sure. Some days are hard.
Today was a hard day.
“Parenting is hard,” a friend texted me this afternoon. “I feel like I’ve stepped off a parenting cliff with no plan and no idea what to do next.”
“I feel like that most days,” I texted back.
Sometimes the questions and doubts are relentless. Are they getting enough sleep? Are we reading together enough? How old is too old for a blankie and thumb-sucking? Should I let my son play football? Should they be in more extracurricular activities? Or fewer? With each new phase, each new question, I feel like I’m stepping off a cliff. I have no idea what I’m doing, and most days, I’m pretty sure I’m falling short in one way or another. Parenting is hard sometimes.
Parenting is hard. Friendship is hard. Relationships are hard. Work is hard. Life is hard. Sometimes it’s all hard.
I understand that by simply making this statement — by saying out loud (or in writing, as the case may be) that life is hard — I am stepping into muddy waters. It is not a popular thing to say. We want things to be good and fine and OK. It’s easier to talk about hard in the past tense. We talk about the struggle after we’ve crawled our way out of the darkness. Things were hard; now everything’s fine.
This tendency to talk about the struggle from the “after” perspective is a common frustration of mine, especially when it comes to writing creative nonfiction. We write about the struggle after we’ve overcome. We talk about the crosses we had bear after we’ve put them down. We sing out praises of “Hallelujah!” because we were lost but now — thank God now — we’re found.
But what about when we’re in the midst of the struggle? What about when we’re buckling under the weight of our cross, when we’re still lost, when we’re stepping off a cliff into uncharted terrain? What about the days when we’re fumbling around in the dark? What about when it all feels so damn hard? What then? Where are the “me too” stories then?
Because what I have found is that when things are hard, when I’m stuck in a downward spiral of doubt and fear and anger, when I’m stepping off the cliff or crawling around in the dark, I have a tendency to tell myself the biggest lie of all: It’s just you. You are all alone. No one else could possibly understand.
Some of the most meaningful things in life are hard. Parenting is damn hard. Nurturing a marriage can be challenging and tricky sometimes, especially when you’re raising young kids. Finding the time and energy to maintain friendships can be awkward and inconvenient, especially when you live thousands of miles apart. Heck, just being an adult can be brutally hard sometimes.
Some of the most beautiful things in life — parenting, marriage, friendship — have a less pretty side and carry a certain grittiness to them. It does no one any good to pretend that they don’t. We don’t diminish their meaning or beauty by talking about the hard and gritty and less pretty parts. And we don’t make life any less beautiful by saying out loud that sometimes it’s all so hard.
Every day, I am acutely aware of how rich and beautiful life is, even on the crappy days. I thank God every day for my children, even when parenting feels like a minefield. And I am deeply grateful for my husband and my family and my friends even though we are sometimes thwarted by everyday obligations and the busyness of our lives, even though the ways we express our love and respect sometimes gets lost in translation.
Tonight my friend and I were texting about getting together. Living about 1,000 miles apart, not to mention the general busyness of life, makes time together more difficult than we would like. We agreed that, yes, life is very hard sometimes. And we don’t always want to admit that it’s hard when we’re in the thick of it. We talked about another girls’ weekend sometime soon.
“Noodle salad!” I texted back, making reference to the quote from As Good as It Gets. In the movie, Jack Nicholson’s character says: “Some of us have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car. But, a lot of people, that’s their story. Good times, noodle salad. What makes it so hard is not that you had it bad, but that you’re that pissed that so many others had it good.”
We had watched that movie for the first time nearly 20 years while spending the weekend at my grandparents’ lake house. There were boats. And friends. And noodle salad. There were good times and noodle salad.
The simple truth is that sometimes things are hard. Sometimes everything feels hard. Sometimes life is hard. And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s pretty stories and sunny days with lakes and boats. Sometimes it’s good times and noodle salad. Most of the time it’s both, because most things worth anything are hard and good.
Maybe the trick is figuring out a way to create good times even when we feel like we’re stepping off a cliff or walking through the wilderness. Maybe the trick is to eat noodle salad even if it’s heavy on the mayo and the noodles are overcooked and the kids are screaming, “But I don’t like noodle salad! I want pizza!” And by “noodle salad,” I think you know that what I really mean is eat handfuls of cookie dough while drinking wine and texting a friend about how it’s all so freaking hard sometimes.